Quentin Collins: A Day In The Life (2019) Chasing The Dragon

Another slightly unusual A:B comparison post: a direct cut-to-disk modern recording, with some of the best of current British jazz musicians, up against a Van Gelder mastered fifty year old Blue Note vinyl, with some of the best mid-Sixties players, including Herbie Hancock.

The comparison is the same composition, Hancock’s Oliloqui Valley, both stereo editions, obviously different interpretation and presentation. The Blue Note has the slightly unfair  advantage of having the actual composer at the keys.

Musicianship

Points of comparison are many, musicanship, for a start. In an interview in April 2007, Quentin Collins cites Miles Davis, Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard as important influences. Quentin, I’ve some good news, we have Freddie Hubbard over on the other track to test your chops. How well does Jason Rebello stand up against Herbie Hancock? Herbie is still with us, but here he is fast approaching the peak of his acoustic playing, on Blue Note, in the mid-Sixties. How well can Brits play “jazz” today?  How do they fare in direct comparison with their influences. You have it all to choose from, not just “the latest”.

Another comparison dimension is tempo, swing and attack. Hancock’s Empyrean Isles has a background of menace and foreboding, sparse, hanging notes, the tunes slither past, very post-bop. Fast forward fifty or more years, ears informed by fifty years of a different beat, in particular the influence of “smooth jazz” and let’s be honest, dance music. We have seen two decades of Blue Note samples remixed for the dance floor. Only last week I received a promotional mailing from someone who claims to have achieved a sucessful fusion of classic Blue Note tunes and rap, complete with his own lyrics. I gotta tell you, I was at a loss for words. Or words that rhyme.

The point has been made previously regarding direct cut (Clifford Jordan/Hank Jones Hello Mr Jones, for Eastwind) and its pressure on musicians to play safe, and probably immense relief on the part of the engineers to get it in the bag in one take. Chasing The Dragon actually ran with a second take direct cut, which was agreed to be better, so the first take effectively offered a practice run. The session Index of the Hancock Englewood Cliffs date tells its own story, June 17, 1964. Looks to me they had quite a few runs to finalise Oliloqui Valley and other tracks

tk.3 Oliloqui Valley (alternate take) Blue Note CDP 7 84175 2
1372 tk.5 One Finger Snap Blue Note BLP 4175
1373 tk.14 Cantaloupe Island Blue Note BLP 4175, BN-LA399-H2
1374 tk.17 The Egg Blue Note BLP 4175
tk.19 One Finger Snap (alternate take) Blue Note CDP 7 84175 2
1375 tk.24 Oliloqui Valley Blue Note BLP 4175, BST 899

As a photographer, you often take dozens of pictures, discard most , to arrive at the one that works best. With direct to disc, you are more or less back to taking just one picture, no subsquent adjustment, you have what you have.

Sound Quality

Sound quality is another issue for comparison. It is not difficult to beat the poor quality of a lot of modern recordings, with a few notable exceptions, the bar is set quite low in that respect. Quentin Collin’s previous album “Road Warrior” on vinyl is horrid, like CD digital transfer onto vinyl. The question is how a direct cut compares with the golden age of all-analog engineering and mastering,  through conventional tape and acetate, not with the poor quality produced today.

I sense we might be getting into SHF territory. (Steve Hoffman Forum, or Sh’… Hits Fan) , the agenda of modern wide spacious soundstage in Tone Poets, information-richness, and critique of Van Gelder, professional jealousy runs rampant.

Chasing The Dragon’s specialty is classical recording on location, and the Quentin Collins is only their second jazz outing.  To be fair, by 1964, Van Gelder had ten years practice recording small group acoustic modern jazz.

Direct cut to disc eliminates any loss in sound quality incurred by mastering from tape, by cutting out the tape step.  Does the result offer a superior sonic experience compared with the best of the golden age of sound engineering, mastering conventionally from tape?

Regular readers will be familiar with the LJC maxim: “Compared To What?” . This a direct comparison, within the limitations of WordPress player. You don’t have to take my word for anything, you listen, you come to your own conclusions.

Selection: Oliloqui Valley

.  .  .

You can read here The Reel To Reel Rambler Dave Denyer’s walk through the day of the recording session at Air Studios, including all the equiment nuances only tape-heads  understand.

Quentin Collins All Star Quintet – Artists

Quentin Collins, trumpet; Jason Rebello, piano; Gary Husband, drums; Joe Sanders, double bass; Miles Bould, percussion; recorded Summer 2019 at Air Studios, Hampstead, recording engineer Mike Valentine, mastering engineer John Webber

Reference comparison:  original Van Gelder stereo master; Herbie Hancock – Oliloqui Valley, Empyrean Isles, Liberty press, circa 1967. (I have the first edtion mono, a much less level playing field, so the Liberty stereo plays, Van Gelder metal)

Selection 2: Oliloqui Valley (Hancock)

. . .

Blue Note Artists

Freddie Hubbard, cornet; Herbie Hancock, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Anthony Williams, drums, recorded at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 17, 1964, recording and mastering engineer Rudy Van Gelder.

 

Vinyl 1:  Chasing The Dragon VALDC013 Direct Cut 180 gm vinyl, pressing by Optimal, Germany.

Vinyl 2: Division of Liberty 84175; stereo Van Gelder master; 138gm vinyl, pressing around 1967, likely by All-Disc, Roselle N.J. (in the absence of any contra-indications)

Quentin Collins Gatefold:

Blue Note Liberty Liner Notes – slightly grubby, but worthy, over 50 years old, like this owner. No-one on the back cover of the original is laughing and posing for the camera.  Collins ensemble camaraderie is sort of what they do on social media nowadays, selfie-photo, “falsies”, but Joe Sanders – one finger pointing to the sky,  politics, has no place here. Artwork matters, art direction score zero.

Collector’s Corner

I first heard this recording at a high-end audio show in a large showroom filled with hi-fi buffs,through big high end speakers. I was impressed with what I heard in that setting and volunteered to do a review. After a few production delays,  finally, postie arrived.

For any who are unfamiliar with Quentin Collins, which included me,  his bio is found on his own site QuentinCollinsMusic.com I listen mostly to musicians who are what doctors refer to as “deceased”. I don’t listen much to contemporary  jazz recordings because I have so many beautiful original recordings by players of the golden age ’50s and ’60s’

Quentin’s  cv, performing and touring with ” internationally renowned artists including Fred Wesley, Gregory Porter, Mark Ronson, Omar, Basement Jaxx, Roy Ayers, Alicia Keys, Dennis Rollins and Mulatu Astatke.” sounds like commerial success,  well done, every musician needs that. And dead musicians are no competition when it comes to live performance. But vinyl is a preservative, renders music immortal, thus the dazzling skills of all those gone before compete for space on my turntable.

Chasing the Dragon have produced an album which stands tall by comparison with many modern recordings, certainly the limited number I have heard. Whether it stands taller than those recordings decades earlier,  which many readers at LJC have on their shelves, as original editions, you must decide. It’s all in the comparison

Musicianship comparison, Engineering comparison, what do you think?

LJC

9 thoughts on “Quentin Collins: A Day In The Life (2019) Chasing The Dragon

  1. Tough compare for me, over my little Radio Shack 1970s mini speakers connected to my computer. Still, the direct cut has a nice roundness, a fullness to it. It sounds like a modern recording, has a nice balance between the various instruments. The ol’ Blue Note has an immediacy, is more forward in the mix. Hard to beat Rudy.

    I’d say I can appreciate both for what they are. I will also say that Collins and band are doing their best, but I wonder if we’ll ever hear musicians like those we cherish from the 40s-60s time period. When I hear live jazz today, there are few that have a recognizable style.

    And totally agree with the post about the graphics and photos. A mish mash that detracts from the package.

  2. I wish them every success as a band, but £50 new lps have nothing to do with my life. If the company who makes these albums sell many of their downloads for £30, they have a fantastic business model, having recovered all of their costs before a 100 lps have been sold.

  3. LJC wrote: “Only last week I received a promotional mailing from someone who claims to have achieved a sucessful fusion of classic Blue Note tunes and rap, complete with his own lyrics. I gotta tell you, I was at a loss for words.”
    This was actually attempted, with some success, on the Blue Note label, in 1994. See the biography of the group Us3, a collective that was formed in London in 1991: http://www.bluenote.com/artist/us3/

  4. I have devoted most of my listening time in the past three weeks to the music of Clifford Brown and Theodore “Fats” Navarro (for an essay on which I’m working). I’m listening to this A:B comparison with the glorious sounds of “Brownie,” Max Roach, Richie Powell, Harold Land et al. fresh in my mind. Hubbard, Hancock, Williams, Carter are worthy successors to this legacy, emulating, building and expanding upon it. These “newcomers” are pale imitators of their predecessors. Though they seem technically proficient (for the most part), I hear not a lick that is fresh, new or original. Why would they bother to do this; why would I bother to listen to this when the jazz library holds so much great original music produced through the creative genius of countless African Americans? Perhaps I should do more to support today’s musicians, but a spark of creativity would be appreciated. There is more originality in some new “hip-hop/R&B” than in this misguided recreation of the Hancock classic. The recording sound strikes me as cold and sterile, thin and weak, compared to the older vinyl. Of course, this is all just opinion, a reflection of my own biases and tastes – but there you have it! ☺

    • I agree with most of what you’ve written here though, with the benefit of being a close observer of the UK jazz scene for many years, I have to say that pianist Jason Rebello can hardly be labelled as a newcomer. I recall seeing him play live as part of saxophonist Steve Williamson’s band over 30 years ago. He has a long and creditable portfolio. Sure he isn’t a Hancock but, hey, who is these days?

      It’s a tough comparison that Andy has set up here and I can’t think of any quartet of young musicians operating today who’d fare well in a comparison with Hubbard/Hancock/Carter/Williams. So let’s cut these folks a bit of slack.

  5. of course, direct to disc mastering is a very cool idea, and i like it. but sadly, it eliminates any opportunity for experimentation that is not directly reproducable ‘live’. there would be no “a love supreme” as we know it with direct to disc, for example.

  6. I have probably listen to much to Van Gelder but new jazz recordings sounds unreal to me. They sound too good in an unpleasant way. Guess you know which version I prefer.

    • I almost always agree, Linus. I like much new jazz music, but I think too many people are trying to mimic old sound, and it sounds artificial.

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